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Shovel safely; keep an eye on pipes

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, at 4:32 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, at 11:14 a.m.

How to shovel

There’s a reason that shoveling snow is considered a great workout. It works lots of muscles and burns calories. But that means it can also cause back injuries or, worse, a heart attack. So you should prepare for shoveling a driveway or sidewalk and do it mindfully, not pushing yourself.

Here are some tips:

• Allow yourself plenty of time to shovel. The activity should not be rushed.

• Dress warmly in layered clothing. But don't bundle up to the point that your clothes restrict movement. Keep your field of vision clear and unobstructed.

• Limber up. Do some light stretching (10 minutes or so) before shoveling.

• Use a shovel that suits your body size. A shovel that is heavy or longer than necessary can strain muscles.

• Hit the fresh stuff. Newly fallen snow is easier to shovel than older, packed snow. And keep an eye out for ice patches. Not only can ice cause you to slip and fall, it can strain a muscle.

• Push the snow, don’t lift it, and have your feet facing in the direction you want the snow to go. Keep your shoveling motion steady, twisting and turning as little as possible. Push snow forward or to the side, not over your back.

• If you need to lift snow, bend your knees with legs apart and back straight.

• Let your legs and arms absorb the stress rather than your back.

• Take frequent breaks to allow muscles to rest. Drink plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration.

• Pay attention to signs from your body. If you experience chest pain or shortness of breath, stop shoveling immediately.

When to use ice melt

If you’re trying to make the pavement safe for pedestrians, shovel as soon as you can after the snow lets up. Pouring on de-icer will probably only create a slimy, slippery mess.

De-icer is not a substitute for shoveling, and it does not provide traction for walking safely on slick pavement. The main purpose of de-icer is to break the bond between ice and pavement, usually by causing the ice to melt. It can make walking safer if it is applied before a storm or after snow has been cleared out of the way. In general, the thinner and newer the ice, the better de-icers work.

If slick spots or slush is left behind, a material used for traction can be applied, such as sand or kitty litter. But nothing works as well as removing snow and ice with a shovel.

Be careful not to track de-icer into the house, because it can leave chemical residues as well as a mess. And once the need for traction material is over, clean it up, or it can pit concrete, hurt plants or make its way as a pollutant into water.

Protect the plumbing

North winds could cause problems for plumbing in some houses in the Wichita area, said Greg Lee, project manager at Superior Plumbing. “That’s usually when things start freezing up,” he said. But the last cold snap probably revealed problems that hopefully have people better prepared this time, he said.

Pipes can freeze in any house, new or old, that doesn’t have enough insulation in the right places, Lee said. When a frigid wind is blowing from the north, for example, kitchens or bathrooms along an outside north wall that have pipes in an uninsulated space such as a crawlspace can have problems. Lee gives these tips for people in such situations:

• If you turn on the tap and no water comes out, you’ll have to wait for pipes to thaw. It can be expensive to have a plumber come out in such cases. Instead, try, in a safe way, to get heat to the pipes. Open cabinets where pipes are so that the house’s heated air reaches them. Use a space heater if it can be placed safely. Do not use an open flame. “Your best bet is to thaw slowly,” Lee said.

• If you’ve had problems before, let a stream of water run through faucets to keep lines from freezing. Keep cabinets open where pipes are.

• Be sure you know where shut-off valves for water are in your house. If the pipes do freeze and then break when the water thaws, it will start pouring into the house, often showing up in unexpected places and causing panic. At that point, it’s crucial to head straight for the shut-off valve and get the water turned off.

The city of Wichita also offers these tips:

• Insulate outside water taps.

• Make sure outdoor irrigation systems are drained and turned off.

Need help? 2-1-1 available

The United Way and Red Cross offices were closed in Wichita on Tuesday, but the Kansas City office of the United Way’s help line, 2-1-1, is answering calls. Help may not be available until after the storm, but the help line is answered 24 hours a day, a 211 operator said.

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